ENDNOTES, February 2021
In this edition: Entente Musicale, new releases of English and French music from SOMM; Kathleen Ferrier, remembered; Messiaen and 20th-century piano music from Divine Art, reviewed by Stuart Millson
A musical entente cordiale is presented in splendid sound this month, courtesy of the ever-enterprising SOMM CD label; a disc which features the virtuosity of two first-class and thoughtful performers of the younger generation, Clare Howick (violin) and Simon Callaghan (piano) – both searching, it seems, for a fusion of the flowering of authentic national voices in music, from England and France in the early 20th century.
France is represented chiefly by Debussy’s valedictory Violin Sonata dating from the end of the Great War – although one might also include Frederick Delius in the French category, for the English-born bohemian spent his last years in the seclusion of the countryside of Grez-sur-Loing. Clare Howick brings both detail and pathos to her interpretation of Delius’s Violin Sonata in B major (op. Posth), especially in the Andante middle movement. Thoughts arise of summer or early-autumn air with insects and birds galore; of overgrowing, untamed garden vegetation and the decaying colours of flowers and occasional traces of their once-strong scents.
The curious ending to the Debussy sonata is brilliantly played by Howick. Marked Très animé, this short exposition takes the listener by surprise, as you are not sure if the piece is about to conclude or not. The matter-of-fact farewell, by no means nostalgic or wallowing, as you might have anticipated in a last work, is repeated and prolonged; and as in his Cello Sonata, Debussy, the master of symphonic sketches such as La Mer or Iberia, imparts feeling to economical musical forms.
Simon Callaghan’s contribution to the collection is to the fore in John Ireland’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor. In Ireland’s music, the piano is used to conjure up that other-worldly realm with which the composer was so associated – a landscape of mists, or intense sunshine on downland escarpments dotted with mysterious Neolithic stones. The sonata is a satisfying work that deserves to better known. By the end of the CD, we can relax somewhat, as Bax recalls Mallorcan scenery and cultural flavour in his delightful “postcard”, Mediterranean. As we endure our January and February weather, this piece engenders the consoling thought that sunny, carefree days will come once again.
SOMM has also issued a remarkable survey of Kathleen Ferrier’s recordings from the 1940s and early- ‘50s: songs by Peter Warlock, Vaughan Williams, Stanford and Rubbra – and more ambitious works, such as the intense Four Poems of St. Teresa of Avila (1947) by Sir Lennox Berkeley, in which the tragically short-lived Miss Ferrier is accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hugo Rignold. This reviewer first heard the Berkeley piece over 30 years ago at a Proms concert, performed by what in those days was the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra. It seemed completely different from the light and radiant, Fauré-like scores, that one normally associates with Berkeley. Here is the composer, coming before his audience in the full flow of faith, with the words of the ancient mystical saint, delivered with such dignity and meaning by the singer for whom they were arranged and composed.
Finally, to the Divine Art label and a hugely attractive CD, entitled ‘La Mer bleue’, with a dazzling impressionist, seascape cover, offering the music of Olivier Messiaen, English modernist, David Gorton, his ear-catching, expressive Ondine, and Szymanowski, his Sonata No.3, an example of 20th-century lush romanticism, performed by the pianist, Roderick Chadwick.
Messiaen – creator of the boundary-stretching, tonality-challenging, almost futuristic Turangalila Symphony – was obsessed by birdsong; and the CD offers devotees of 20th-century music the chance to detach themselves from the ordinary world by switching their ‘play’ button to the first book of Catalogue d’oiseaux. Messiaen is hard to categorise. His oeuvre is informed by his intense Catholicism and his preoccupation with the mysteries of time and the universe, as in Turangalila. Roderick Chadwick takes us, step by step, through a ‘Catalogue’ like no other. He is the perfect interpreter of this magical and unique sound world.
Stuart Millson is the Classical Editor of The Quarterly Review
CD details: Entente Musicale, Music for Violin and Piano, SOMMCD 0625; Kathleen Ferrier, SOMM/Ariadne, 5010; Messiaen, Gorton, Szymanowski, Divine Art, DDA, 25209.